State of play

I don’t write on here much about videogames these days … choosing to concentrate on movies as  a whole.  Yet sometimes games come along that make me sit back and my mouth fall open – their excellence too obvious to go un-spoken (or un-written) about.  Two such games I’ll be reporting on are the PlayStation exclusive action / adventure The Last Of Us, and the hotly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V.


I have just come from a lengthy game of The Last Of Us, a sort of The Walking Dead inspired action game where you’re pitted as Joel, who has to escort Ellie, an immune teenage girl from one side of the states to the other so to take her to a science lab and possibly find a cure for a virus that has all but destroyed mankind.  Developers Naughty Dog of the famed Uncharted series have truly delivered their masterpiece.  First and foremost it looks stunning, with highly detailed, life-like environments and ultra-real character animated and human behaviour I haven’t seen done quite so well anywhere else.  You get the feeling each character is alive, especially the full of personality Ellie, your computer-controlled partner for much of the game.  Add to this gameplay that allows you to be strategic, upgrade your weapons and traverse each environment with an almost-open-world freedom – and this is a game that not only looks great, but plays great also.  Combat in my opinion has often been Naughty Dog’s Achilles Heel, but this time its fun and clever, with a great use of various types of weaponry so you can plan your way through each encounter however you see fit.  The story too is highly involving, very emotional and above all else – real.  Story telling of this depth is rare in videogames, but here it’s on par, if not surpassing at times those you see in a blockbuster movie.  Take note Hollywood.  Essential.

Then we come to GTA V, a game I just can’t get enough of.  The open-world of San Andreas / Los Santos is easily the biggest in the series and has so many areas to explore and secrets to find, that just driving around, causing chaos is a game in of itself.  Now add to this a first in the series, three very individual characters to control, Michael a former mobster now in witness protection, Franklin a typical hood gangster, and then there’s Terry, a psychotic hillbilly nutjob.  GTA has often been about its characters, its tongue-in-cheek humour and its satire of modern living-  and that continues here, with the same funny, sarcastic radio DJs, the great, varied music, and above all else, a joyful disregard for taste and decency.  GTA is the gaming world’s rebellious cousin, and he’s on top form here.  Developer Rockstar have pulled out all the stops, with a vibrant never-looked-so-good game world, believable characters and situations, with plenty of nods to movies and TV shows.  It’s the kind of game you keep in your collection and even if you don’t want to do any of the 60+ missions, this game offers more fun per minute than almost any other game out there (with this time, the whole world open to explore from the start).  It’s adult humour and subjects aren’t for everyone however, and the frequent strong language and sexual or violent moments can get a bit much – but it’s to be expected in a series that has always pushed boundaries and caused controversy.  Either way this is a must play.

Sitting back and looking at the above games, makes me wonder just what is the next generation going to bring us?  These two games look amazing, with more effects and ideas going on than we’ve seen for a long time, a pinnacle of design and programming, and dare I say it, artistry, that trumping them next generation won’t be easy.  We can’t possibly get the technical leap we had from say, PS2 to PS3, but with technical limitations further widened, developers have even more power at their disposal, and games of this style or even things we haven’t imagined yet, could just be around the corner.  I remain on the fence as to whether its needed – our currently consoles still very capable of wowing us – but it’s certainly exciting times we live in as gamers.

L.A. Noir – impressions

This was one of my big hopes for 2011.  Rockstar Games’ much anticipated cop adventure game, borrowing from the likes of Grand Theft Auto as well as movies like L.A. Confidential.  The hype surrounding it made a big noise about the revolutionary facial technology that can put real actors into a game world, and the prospect of playing a game that is less about running around with a gun, and more about investigating crime scenes and interrogating witnesses, certainly made me sit up and take notice.  So what is the game actually like to play?

You are ex-war veteran Cole Phelps, starting out as a beat Cop who quickly rises through the ranks, going from Homicide to Vice to Arson.  At first it feels ver much like GTA in the large open world (you get a fully re-created Los Angeles to explore) and being a good guy instead of a criminal is refreshing.  Once you get into the meat of the game, searching crime scenes etc, it’s very unique and interesting, and looking for clues is quite unlike anything out there, that I have played at least.  Also sitting down and quizzing witnesses or suspects is done well, with a system where you must ask questions, which are based on the evidence and clues you have found, and going by what answers the witness / suspect returns, you can choose between believing them, doubting their honesty or calling them a liar.  At first this is tricky to get to grips with, but once you understand what the game is asking of you, getting the job done and putting criminals behind bars can be very satisfying.

Graphically this is impressive, especially as far as the characters and various people you meet are concerned.  The technology is very good, even if the odd recognisable face (did I just spot Matt out of Heroes?) can look a little weird.  The city although very detailed pales in comparison to GTAIV for things going on and stuff to do, and can’t hold a candle technically to Mafia II either.  Also the game suffers quite badly from frame-rate slow down, and it’s obvious that the game world isn’t fully realised with many repeated lines of dialogue from pedestrians and a fair few bugs.  But it creates a great atmosphere of 1940s America though, and for that at least, it does what it came to do.

My main gripe with the game is the repetitiveness of the cases.  I am about half way in, and so far nearly every murder has been a woman and the investigations have constantly resulted in the same on-foot or by car chase, which is nothing we haven’t seen done many times.  Ok, the on-foot stuff is fairly slick, but when you’ve done it five or more times in a row, it gets boring very quickly.  I feel overall that this is a game with a great technology behind it and some good ideas, but for my money at least, it just doesn’t feel very well realised and lacks the variety and compelling story to make it much more than bargain bin fodder.  The kinda game you won’t regret buying cheap or trading-in for, but it’s not one I’d recommend at full price.

Red Dead Redemption – impressions

It’s taken me a while to get around to this one, as there were a few games I wanted to play instead.  Yet with the summer games droubt upon us, I felt it was as good a time as any to sink my teeth into Rockstar’s much acclaimed Wild West action adventure.

You play as John Marston, a cowboy with a mysterious past looking to right wrongs and make a name for himself in the West.  Saved from death by a local rancher called Bonnie, you start out helping her daily work and also doing missions for local law enforcement.  Along the way you’ll find side quests and random encounters that bring the world of the wild west vividly to life.  This is a gorgeous looking game with Rockstar’s tried and tested graphics engine coming a long way since GTA IV and the old west has never looked more atmospheric or picturesque.  Gorgeous vistas, sunsets and huge wilderness and vast plains to explore that are packed with detail and life.  Playing the game, shows that the overall open-world template isn’t that far removed from GTA, and riding a horse, lassooing enemies and gunfights are as much fun as you’d imagine.  Like GTA the game can get a little bogged down with the wealth of things to see and do, and making progress is hampered by the constant distractions of the world, which to be honest is only a small gripe that can be levelled at similar games.

Overall though, I’m having a blast, and the controls, the story and the missions are all well done and easy to get into.  It’ll probably last me a fair while too, knowing how epic Rockstar usually makes its games, so I’m sure I’ll have much more to report on in the coming weeks.

Gaming musings 2011

The year ahead does look very exciting for gamers.  Some very big hitters are just on the horizon, either coming our way in the next few weeks, or making an appearance sometime during 2011. 

Of the ones I’m looking forward to the most, I’d have to place Crysis 2 as my most eagerly anticipated game this year.  A sequel to a game I never got to play but heard a great deal about.  A first-person shooter set in New York City during an alien invasion where you play as a super soldier with a specialist suit that gives you superhuman strength and other special abilities.  Developer’s Crytek have promised an open-ended game world where you can approach any situation from a variety of paths and tactically use your suit’s abilities to infiltrate, creep up on and generally overthrown the alien scum.  As Crytek are renowned for their expertise with graphics and artificial intelligence, from the brief snippets of gameplay and leaked footage I’ve seen, this could very much become a classic in the industry.

Another game that has got me excited is the Rockstar Games developed L.A. Noir.  Sort of Grand Theft Auto meets LA Confidential where you play through a rookie Cop’s ever evolving career as he rises up the ladder solving crimes and taking down bad guys.  The game is revolutionary for its use of motion capture facial animation and promises to change the way you play games with gameplay mechanics such as looking at a witness’s face to figure out if he’s telling the truth or lying.  This looks kinda like this year’s Heavy Rain with its deep movie-like storyline and fleshed out characters, and will certainly be one of the more unique games this year.

Epic Games returns with the latest entry in its gung-ho shooter series, namely Gears Of War 3.  Although I had a few issues with some of the gameplay and level design choices of Gears 2, I will still be picking this up just for it’s unrivalled shooting action, it’s never-bettered cover system and it’s stunning visual design, something which is a given when the game uses Epic’s much celebrated Unreal Engine 3 technology.

I.D. games makes a comeback too with open-world shooter / adventure Rage, a Mad-Max inspired post-apocolyptic actioner with ground breaking graphics and industry applauded design.  I.D. have rarely disappointed in the past, considering they were behind such classics as Doom and Quake, and with a helluva lot to prove considering their long hiatus, this will hopefully be well worth the wait.

Portal 2 will also be a sure bet when it arrives, coming from the genius game designer’s at Valve, the guys responsible for my favourite game of all time, Half-Life 2, and following on from the highly regarded, brilliantly designed Portal, this promises to be an evolution in the puzzle game genre, with as expected Valve’s unique sense of humour, gifted story telling and superb game mechanics. 

So to conclude.  2011 look like being a classic year for video games.  Some of the titles mentioned could well go onto to be award winners and looked back on as milestones in their field.  I will hopefully be getting my hands on all of them in the months to come, so expect my usual impressions when that happens.